Senior Women’s Open in Wheaton puts exclusive Chicago Golf Club in spotlight

Step inside Chicago Golf Club, and you know right away you’re on hallowed ground.

There’s still a quietness to the Wheaton course as USGA organizers prepare to stage the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at the historic venue this week.




The clubhouse was largely empty on a recent morning, and not much has changed since the shrine to the game was built 105 years ago.

The building has no air conditioning and no modern frills. On the walls of the locker room are black-and-white photos of the tournament fields that have played the links course. Up a green-carpeted staircase, a former ladies lounge has been converted into a “history room” with trophies and a 1992 yardage book signed by a teenage Tiger Woods.

The historic and secluded Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton is hosting the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open beginning Thursday.
– Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Members here hardly seek the limelight. It takes an invitation to join a club that’s exclusive, but unassuming and low-key.

“It’s a quiet, little place, and people go there to just quietly enjoy golf, and so we’ve never been into a lot of publicity,” said John Moran, a club historian. “We typically turn more things down.”

So all that begs the question: Why did the club agree to host a televised Open championship featuring the legends in the women’s game and a $1 million purse?

The course’s allure

Experiencing the prestige of Chicago Golf will be as much a draw to some fans as catching a glimpse of the big names in the 120-player field that tees off Thursday morning. JoAnne Carner will hit the first ball of the championship in a powerhouse group with two other major winners — Hollis Stacy and Sandra Palmer.

The Senior Women’s Open will mark the first time Chicago Golf has opened its doors for a high-profile event since the 2005 Walker Cup, an amateur team competition.

“We’ll have people come out just to see the golf course,” Moran said.

Chicago Golf opened the first 18-hole course in the country at the club’s original location in present-day Downers Grove. Members moved the club to Wheaton in 1895.

Some of the allure also has to do with the privacy shrouding the club, which has 135 regular members. For the average passer-by, it’s easy to miss the clubhouse drive southwest of a cemetery off Plamondon Road. And a club historical website is mostly password-protected.

The 1st, 18th and 15th hole at Chicago Golf Club, a links course that will test the short game of the 120-player field for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
– Mark Black | Staff Photographer

But there will be another kind of patron eager to get an up-close look at a course that has withstood the test of time since architect Seth Raynor led a 1920s-era redesign. Raynor was a protégé of Charles Blair Macdonald, the club’s founder and a driving force behind the creation of the Amateur Golf Association of the United States, now known as the USGA.

“I think many people will be surprised to see a links course when they show up at Wheaton. Not a lot of people have been exposed to the property, but as you look out across the terrain there are very few trees, a lot of natural fescue rough,” said John Guyton, the PGA professional at Chicago Golf.

Galleries will be able to walk the wide fairways with players competing for the first Senior Women’s Open trophy. The USGA will only rope off the tees and the fast, undulating greens, and there won’t be any grandstands.

USGA officials are tight-lipped about attendance estimates for their new championship, though club members say they are expecting roughly 5,000 patrons on each day of the weekend.

“I don’t think we’ve focused as much on crowd size as much as we’ve focused on fan experience,” said Matt Sawicki, USGA’s championships director. “And anyone who might have come to the Walker Cup here in 2005 or has been to a U.S. Amateur Championship, I think they can expect an intimate experience with crowds that size.”

Kept unchanged

“Conditions here are typically very firm and very fast, so it’s a little bit different style of golf than a lot of players are going to be used to,” John Guyton, the PGA professional at Chicago Golf Club near Wheaton, said. The club is hosting the first U.S. Senior Women’s Open from July 12 to 15.
– Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Moran began to understand the lore around Chicago Golf as a young caddie for Ben Crenshaw, who became a club member three years before he won his first Masters.

“It’s a remarkably traditional and unchanged course,” Crenshaw said in a 2005 Daily Herald interview ahead of the Walker Cup. “They have done as good a job as anyone in the country of protecting the course and keeping it unchanged.”

For all of its closely guarded culture, it’s not so surprising Chicago Golf was willing to lift the curtain for the Senior Women’s Open.

“We wanted to make a contribution. We wanted to be part of the history of it, and we didn’t do it because of the publicity,” Moran said.

As guardians of golf history, the club extended the official invitation to the USGA, offering to host a new championship for the greats in the women’s game.

The Senior Women’s Open will head to Pine Needles in North Carolina next year. Beyond that, would the event return to Chicago Golf?

“We’ll go back to being quiet,” Moran said.

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